Do you have a book inside you but are questioning how to write a book? Maybe it’s your life story that you feel would make a good manifesto to help others learn from the situations you have encountered and the lessons you have learned in your life. Or maybe it is an idea you believe is worth exploring in writing. Perhaps you have already outlined a fictional story with its main characters in your mind and have yet to sit down and actually start writing your best-selling novel.
Some editors will advise new authors to “just start writing”. But how to write a book can feel so overwhelming that many first-time authors never end up finishing their manuscript.
Strategies that authors can use as they enter the preliminary stages of writing their manuscript
- Decide on what your book is all about. What is the main focus of your manuscript? Make it as specific as you possibly can, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on it. Think of the elevator pitch: Could you describe what your finished book will be about in 2 minutes?
- Create a consistent writing space for yourself. This can be as simple as your kitchen table or an armchair in your living room. It can be your office desk or the local coffee shop. Maya Angelou is said to have rented a hotel room with a bottle of sherry, where she would write all day.
- Formulate your manuscript idea that you’ve been carrying around in your head on paper – in no more than a couple of sentences.
- Create a skeleton outline for your story. Sometimes called a draft zero, this is your very basic outline of the main characters, plots, twists, and outcomes. It’s basically a brainstorming session (or several of them), in which you’ll explore your idea scene-by-scene. Who are the major characters in each scene, what difficulty do they encounter, the setting of the scene itself and any key events happening in the scene, and, finally, what should the outcome of the scene be? Writing the skeleton outline is a free-flow exercise. Do not try to edit as you go along or use the thesaurus; in fact, turn off your editing software on your computer, so that you don’t get distracted by any red squiggly lines. This way, you can suppress any perfectionism that might surface at this stage, which can kill your momentum. You will be left with a bare bones “skeleton” road map for your manuscript.
- Start researching anything that you noticed while writing your skeleton outline and that you feel you need more in-depth knowledge about. This is almost a given if you are writing a non-fiction book. You’ll likely have to even go outside the Internet at times and dig for more information in archives. Also, research whether your idea is worthy of an entire book. Now that you’ve written your skeleton outline, are you still passionate about your topic? Have you tried your elevator pitch on a few people you know and trust and did your idea get them excited? Because, if it doesn’t keep you or anyone you know interested, you will find it difficult to keep writing, and your readers might not actually read what you’ve written.
- At this point, it is helpful to look over your skeleton outline from step 4. Did you develop your character profiles? Maybe, during your research, you discovered you’d like to add another character to your story. Set up a character profile for this one as well.
How to actually write your book – A few strategies to keep you going
- Now you can “just start writing”. Start to write the book with the first thought that comes to mind; hint, it will likely be something from your skeleton outline. At this point, you are going from skeleton outline to creating a rough draft.
- Create a routine and stick to it. When do you feel most creative and can you set aside at least 1-2 hours during that time to go to your writing space consistently? Maybe you already know how many words you’d like your final manuscript to be. Look at how much time you can devote to writing every day and set your daily word count from there. Then try to hit that word count goal every time you sit down to write. Treat your writing time like any other job or appointment and write it in your calendar. This way, you are less likely to skip it, especially if you are writing your book in addition to working a full-time job that demands much of your time already.
- Finish your first draft. This may be the hardest thing you’ll do, because this is where self-doubt often raises its ugly head. You may not feel too motivated on one day or encounter a serious writer’s block. Writer’s block is very real when you write a book – and everyone has experienced it at one point or another. You can get stuck in the middle of your story. When that happens, one of the best techniques is to go back to your skeleton outline. Often, your next thought is already there, and it will be easy to get going again. Sometimes, you have to leave the scene you got stuck in and move on to the next one in your outline. And that’s usually when the magic happens: Your writer’s block just dissolves as you’re finding a clear way to bridge the two scenes.
- Revise and edit your rough draft. This is so important, especially in light of self-publishing options these days. There is software that allows writers to publish each chapter of their books individually as they go along. Once a chapter or a scene is written, it can immediately be uploaded and made public. Middle and High School students can use it and many of them do, without even so much as re-reading what they’ve written before hitting “Publish”. A serious author will always have someone else look over a first draft. A friend or family member is a good choice; a professional editor is a better choice. If you don’t know a professional editor, consider hiring one, because you’ve invested a lot of time into your manuscript so far. If it needs revisions that, for example, will enhance a good plot twist, clear up inevitable misunderstandings of the action or misconceptions about your protagonist’s character, or simply patch up logical gaps or plot holes in your story, a proactive and honest editor is worth their salt, or your money, in this case.
- After you’ve revised your first draft (make sure you have kept track of revisions), write your second draft. This is where you’ll tie it all together – your initial idea and all your edits and revisions. You can now really go into detail and make sure that the story in itself is logical, so the reader will enjoy it from start to finish. Your second draft will answer question such as: Does the beginning of the story have a strong hook? Or can you improve it? Did you fully develop the plot? Did you keep a specific tone throughout the entire book? Are there any other weaknesses in the story that you might be able to either strengthen or eliminate completely?
- When you’ve finished your final draft, the last step is to publish your book. See our next blog post for essential tips on publishing your completed work.